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12. The Anatomy of Contradictory Ideas, from Alternative Economics 101 -Tax Your Imagination

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Authoritarianism is systemic inequality, which grants a privilege to one group or individual to exercise power at the expense of others. When Thomas Paine described society as a blessing, and government as a necessary evil, the dividing line was how power was used, not who was using it. Slavery and Jim Crow were as unfair as monarchy or feudalism. Plutocrats practicing democracy amongst themselves is not liberty. The peace symbol represents social harmony and equality whereas the fist represents violence and inequality.

Political Virtue by Steve Consilvio

The virtue of economics is production. Economics deals with the physical. Money, or finance, deals with the numerical values that we assign to the physical. We can live without money, but we cannot survive without work. We must produce so we can consume. The more we produce, the higher our standard of living, and the more people society can support. Goods and services are created through cooperation. No man is an island. As we step through the sequence of our lives, we need one another to fashion the physical world for our mutual benefit. 

Distribution is an important element of production. Moving the wealth of land and labor between businesses, between the city and the countryside, and between nations, is at the heart of economics. Everyone lives a hand-to-mouth existence, and shares an immediate need for food, healthcare and shelter. 

The vice in economics is destruction (war) or hoarding (selfishness). Both reduce the quality of life. When the goal of work is to make things difficult for others, to mutually destroy what others manufacture, or when we demand more than our share, we destroy economic balance. Selfishness (inequality) is a lethal act, but it works more slowly than a bomb. Greedy behavior mimics the slave-master who robs the productive labor of the slave. It is like an assembly-line worker who disrupts the line by not using the parts they were given. They have extra pieces which serve no purpose, and everyone else suffers the consequences of inferior products and avoidable repairs. Economics is an assembly line on which we are all a participant. The happy face symbol represents hunger satiated. Through equality everyone's needs are met. In contrast, the percentage symbol with the embedded up and down arrows represent inequality and volatility, which eventually makes everyone miserable.

Economics Virtue by Steve Consilvio


Commonwealth requires the understanding of a system,  the recognition of our role, and standards of proper behavior for everyone. Commonwealth is more than just physical wealth, it is social harmony and intellectual enlightenment, too. Commonwealth combines faith, liberty and production.

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In looking at the virtues and vices of religion, politics and economics, we can see that they are almost inseparable issues. Every criteria can be triangulated, which forms the pattern reflected in the Big History model. The virtues form a complete whole: faith, trust, equality, working hard, productivity, cooperation, sharing and optimism, whereas only a single vice is necessary to disrupt harmony.

Wisdom Conflicts by Steve Consilvio

There are very clear differences between vice and virtue, so why is there so much confusion? Comparative analysis can help us to understand the nature of dissonance and the failures of society. The problems are internally paired opposites before they are triangulated. In the religion empire we have immoral moralists or immoral morality. In the political empire we have authoritarian liberty or authoritarian libertarians. In the economic empire we have destructive production or destructive producers. Using these terms, we should be able to evaluate any topic that arises, and test every idea for both internal and connective consistency. The same as math, virtue and vice both balance. Virtue: Morality = Liberty = Production. Vice: Immorality = Authoritarianism = Destruction. In a mathematical equation, there are infinite number of incorrect answers. If we want a correct answer, then we need to work for it logically and consistently. Any one of the three virtues can be substituted with a non-virtue.

Ideas, emotions and action need to be in harmony for virtue to come to life. All opinions are not equal. Some are informed and some are misinformed. An opinion that is true is a fact, an opinion that is false is a claim. We need to separate the facts from the claims. Theories of cause and effect need to be tested. For example, "Inflation is not caused by supply and demand, it is caused by the application of percentages." I consider this statement regarding inflation to be a fact, but many others likely view it as either a new opinion or a false claim.

Finding Balance

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Any fact can be rejected by anyone. This book calls into question well-known economic "facts.' New facts are no more absolute than the discarded facts. We are all our own judge of the evidence. Consensus is an invalid criteria for establishing truth. The laws of mathematics are not subject to consensus and neither are the truths about virtue. The challenge is not to get everyone to agree, or to follow; the challenge is to get everyone to understand yet continue to question and analyze. We must leave enough doubt that we can continuously improve our virtue, but not so much that we exit the path. We need to check the math, and not blindly follow procedures to confirm our bias. The procedures, the expectations and the math can all be wrong, but we can easily convince ourselves that we are in "the best of all possible worlds' while things are collapsing all around us. We need to be content without being complacent, confident without being condescending, curious without being incongruous.

We are all born ignorant. Getting a child to obey and believe is easy, but society moves forward based on the ability of the adults to improve. Deep thinking does not require a college degree, it only requires effort and doubt. We are all students and teachers of one another. Our collective problems are caused by our collective lack of understanding of virtue. A person who is forced to obey can not teach anything except to obey or rebel. It is impossible for a coward to teach courage, except as a negative example. A person who is forced to starve is forced to learn greed. Many of the richest people today were once among the poorest people. A person who understands virtue can spread virtue. It is virtue that sustains our humanity. With virtue, the ends and the means are in harmony. That is the balance that we all need. Doubt is required for questioning to exist. Indifference and complacency are as destructive to virtue as error. The child must grow into a fully functioning mature adult, not just be a cog in the wheels of an empire. Virtue is something that must be right and widespread for a society to advance.

The person at the center of the model is trying to grow, survive, understand and thrive. They are surrounded by many voices and organizations and culturally accepted bodies of knowledge with contradictory messages. Since we are all individuals, and involved with all three organization types, there are two types of dissonance we experience: personal and organizational. 

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Steve grew up in a family business, was a history major in college, and has owned a small business for 25 years. Practical experience (mistakes) have led him to recognize that political rhetoric and educated analysis often falls short of reality. (more...)

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